Torch It!

When I began working in encaustic seven months ago my first task was to figure out what I would need in my studio in order to start painting. I knew it was going to be more complex than a regular studio, so I began reading books, blogs and tutorials to help me assemble the necessary equipment ASAP. Next to the obviously important item of encaustic medium it was clear that a hot plate and some sort of instrument for fusing (after applying the pigmented wax it must be fused to the surface with heat) were the most important items to acquire first.

The hot plate was no problem, I just hopped over to Sears and bought the biggest electric griddle they had on the shelf. Then came time to decide what to use to fuse the wax. Everyone essentially said the same thing, it’s a matter of preference. There are propane, butane, Crème brûlée and MAPP gas torches, heat guns, tacking irons and regular household irons. In her book Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide to Creating Fine Art with Wax, Lissa Rankin did a decent job of outlining how she uses these different heat sources, but never having made an encaustic painting before it really didn’t mean that much to me. I already owned a heat gun and this venture was getting very expensive, so I decided the heat gun would be my method of fusing.

Now, I wish I had stumbled upon someone during my research phase who had written what I’m about to write. Working with encaustic can be physically demanding. If you’re like me, you could be standing there for eight hours at a whack bent over at a 45 degree angle with your head cocked half of the time trying to see what you’re doing via raking light. Add holding a heat gun in the air while slowly moving across your piece for what seems to be a painful century and you have a recipe for at least one trip to the chiropractor a week. My lower back and neck are always in pain and my right shoulder (the heat gun arm) is often exhausted. I just took it as an unfortunate consequence of doing what I love.

Last weekend I decided I wanted a new toy to experiment with for the hell of it. So I went over to Lowes and bought myself the Bernzomatic BZ8250HT Trigger-Start Hose Torch. I chose it because it came with a five foot hose, a belt holder for the fuel, an adjustable flame control knob and it could use MAPP & propane tanks.

Let me just say Oh my God! Why didn’t anyone state, in no uncertain terms, that you’d be a fool not to use a torch for encaustic!!! Let me say that again for anyone beginning encaustic painting, you’d be a fool not to use a torch.

For the initial fusing of the wax to the panel it can’t be beat. I just fused two separate base layers of a 24 x 15″ panel in about five minutes. It’s smooth as glass, very few bubbles and best of all I am in no pain whatsoever. That would have taken me so much longer with the heat gun, there would have been tons of bubbles and it would have required a decent amount of scraping once it cooled to get it level.

Holding this light torch handle was such a relief from that heat gun I can’t even describe it. I don’t wear the holster with the fuel in it, I’ve attached it to the table next to me further reducing the amount of weight I have to carry.blowtorch

I have only been using this blowtorch for a few days so I can’t go on and on about all it’s fabulous attributes regarding encaustic. However, with the experimentation that I have done so far, I know that the adjustable flame is very useful. At the low setting it is gentle and small, I’m pretty sure I could fuse smaller, delicate areas with this setting and not obliterate them. Cranked up high is pretty useless. I could melt the wax completely off a panel from over a foot away in the blink of an eye. I found a nice middle ground for the initial fusing I did today and I’ll be joyously continuing to experiment with it as soon as I publish this post.

 

My Studio

encaustic studio

Starting With Encaustic

Years ago I was doing freelance graphic design for a corporate art consulting company. The first time I entered their office I saw that they had a plethora of art scattered about and various large, less than inspiring paintings on the walls. Then I noticed something different, something I felt an instant affinity for. I was compelled to go to it and just stare. I had to know what it was and more specifically, what it was made out of. They told me it was a labyrinth by Cheryl Goldsleger and that it was an encaustic. I had heard of encaustics before, I did go to art school after all, but I guess I’d never seen one in person, and if I had, it certainly didn’t make the impression on me that this piece did. I was mesmerized.

“Encaustic, I must learn encaustic some day,” I said to myself. It seemed like an overwhelmingly daunting task to learn it at the time so I made a mental note and logged it into my “someday I’ll do that” list.

So, 14 years later, I wake up one morning and the first thing that pops into my head as my eyes open is “encaustic, I must start teaching myself encaustic—today!” I wasted no time getting to my computer to begin my research and by noon that day I had ordered supplies, a couple of how-to books and was acquiring a massive set of bookmarks to various  suppliers, artist’s sites and YouTube tutorials. Buying my hotplate was particularly exciting for some reason, perhaps it meant I was really going to do this, who knows.

The books arrived and I instantly devoured them. Then I saw the UPS man walking to my door with a box, I knew the wax was in there and I probably dislocated the guy’s shoulder yanking the package from his hand and racing it to the garage where I I had set up my new studio. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever been as excited to do anything before in my life. That was March 2011 and I have been obsessed every day since.

Here is my very first encaustic “experiment.”

I

I, encaustic on panel, 7.5 x 4.75"

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